Sulli was sitting in floor two of Hillman Center. It’s funny how things that seem so out of the ordinary become so normal after doing them for so long. Suppose that’s how people learn to juggle, tame lions, date losers. We adapt, part of the human spirit. Sulli’s human spirit was as adaptable as fuck, for lack of a better term. Dad was hooked up to receive fluids and the nurse had just come by to draw blood. Sulli remembered how just three months ago it was shocking to think he would ever need a feeding tube or that the nurse would have trouble finding a vein. Once again, something so strange, so far from believable just months ago, was now as routine as taking Jude to school.
‘You brought your laptop huh? What are you writing about?’ He croaked. His voice was different after all his radiation. Everything was different after all the radiation. Head and neck cancer was something that never existed until it poisoned Dad’s body and mind.
Sulli shrugged. Best not to tell him the grim thoughts flowing through her mind and laptop everyday.
Not a second later and Dad had already fallen asleep. He was such a light sleeper now, just looking at him too long would wake him up. In her twenties she could come and go as she pleased, all hours of the night and morning, he never budged. Hell, she even threw a couple after hours parties while he was dreaming.
She had stopped typing and watched the young nurses buzz around the other patients. She knew the chemotherapy treatment the unlucky patients endured were gruesome. Looking around, some of them looked on the edge of death, bodies showing collateral damage from the war in their bodies. Others had no idea what was ahead of them, still carrying a normal weight, color in their faces, chatting away, one patient still even able to eat soup.
Sulli thought about Jude’s inquiry about her sister. He wasn’t going to let up and she was glad. It gave her a reason to remember. She locked memories away so tightly she wasn’t sure she even had the key anymore.
Dawn Marie, her only sister, her older sister, was a wild child. A hard act to follow. Thirteen years older, she was reckless, rebellious, and the coolest woman Sulli ever had the privilege of knowing, and loving. All those years Sulli lived with Jake she was right around the corner from Dawn Marie. She saw sweet Sulli fall in love for the first time and provided plenty of ribbing. Dawn showing her love by teasing the dreamy eyed teenagers in love. Sulli would stop at Dawn Marie’s work. She was a bartender at a strip club. A seedy strip club with see through heels and teddies as normal, everyday work attire. Except for Dawn Marie. She was regularly in glasses, oversized flannel shirts, and Levi’s.
‘If I ever see you up there I will kick your little ass!!’ She would yell, pointing to the disco dance floor. Three gold poles were strategically placed on the stage and electronic dance music played loudly.
The show will always go on.
Sulli would never be a stripper. Saturated in sweaters and layered t-shirts, Sulli was uncomfortable in a tank top or sandals. She was introverted, always smiling, the crazy fox. The layers of clothing hung from her small, skinny frame.
The friends of Dawn Marie’s, especially the strippers, always had the darkness in their eyes. It was hard for them to smile. They distracted and hid it by taking all their clothes off for strangers. Sulli understood them in a strange way.
She never wondered what they had been through and how they ended up dancing for men to bad music and bad lighting. Money, broken hearts, broken families, to name a few reasons. Life and it’s good friend Irony making stripping an appealing option somehow.
Dawn Marie was a tough on the outside, mushy on the inside person. The outer layer wasn’t broken easily but Sulli never had a problem, and neither did all the girls at the club. She was brazen, bold, outlandish, and didn’t take shit from anyone. They were a lot alike, Sulli and Dawn Marie, scarily so. She became sort of a mother to Sulli but stayed a sister first. Closer than ever after their mother died, Dawn Marie showed her how much she had to live up to, strength, tough as nails, but loving, unabashedly, even after a dark day.
Sulli smiled thinking about all the things Dawn Marie did while they were growing up. Drove her Dad nuts. It wasn’t just her rebellious wandering ways and difficult domination and drama. Dawn Marie had epilepsy, severe epilepsy. It required heavy medication, it effected who she was, how she felt, and she absolutely hated it. She would rather have a grand maul seizure everyday than keep taking the medications.
Sulli thought of the similarity between epilepsy and head and neck cancer. Draping her family with information about torturous health issues, plaguing Sulli, Dad, Dawn Marie. Hurt them, even worse, killed them.
The seizures Dawn Marie endured were severe. Sulli didn’t learn that until she was older. She didn’t really understand everything that went on with Dawn and her parents. She was only Jude’s age at the time. She could remember a hazy scene of her mother shoving Dawn to the ground while sticking a pillow underneath her to soften the fall. She didn’t remember the tremors Dawn Marie would suffer. Violently shaking while Mom and Dad supported her and helped her until another Grand Maul’s violation passed.
She wouldn’t tell Jude about the tremors, the seizures, the suffering. She would tell him….Dawn Marie introduced her to the Rolling Stones and 80’s hair bands. Taught her how to pin her hair back, take care of records, play them carefully on the record player. Loudly. How to enjoy life, sleep in whenever she could, enjoy everyday. She had all her friends sign their names on her walls in her bedroom. She lived in the attic and to this day Sulli recalls it being a teenager’s dream room.
Reckless, rebellious Dawn Marie. She was kicked out of three highschools before earning her GED and moving out of the house. Sulli’s parents just couldn’t take her wild ways anymore and Dawn Marie was ready to get on her own. Sulli still thinks she is the coolest person ever. A woman no one would want to cross, but everyone loved. That’s what she’d tell Jude.
Sulli looked over and her Dad was still sleeping. She started to daydream about Dawn Marie again. Her eyes glazed over and she wasn’t in Hillman anymore, it was 2004, she had just broken up with Jake and knew her sister would help her get through this.